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Rodin's Debutante
Cover of Rodin's Debutante
Rodin's Debutante
A Novel
by Ward Just
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Tommy Ogden, a Gatsbyesque character living in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Rodin and announces instead his intention to endow a boys' school. Ogden's decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Just's emotionally potent new novel.

Lee's life decisions—to become a sculptor, to sojourn in the mean streets of the South Side, to marry into the haute-intellectual culture of Hyde Park—play out against the crude glamour of midcentury Chicago. Just's signature skill of conveying emotional heft with few words is put into play as Lee confronts the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School under the purview, in the school library, of a bust known as Rodin's Debutante. And, especially, as he meets again a childhood friend, the victim of a brutal sexual assault of which she has no memory. It was a crime marking the end of Lee's boyhood and the beginning of his understanding—so powerfully under the surface of Just's masterly story—that how and what we remember add up to nothing less than our very lives.

Tommy Ogden, a Gatsbyesque character living in a mansion outside robber-baron-era Chicago, declines to give his wife the money to commission a bust of herself from the French master Rodin and announces instead his intention to endow a boys' school. Ogden's decision reverberates years later in the life of Lee Goodell, whose coming of age is at the heart of Ward Just's emotionally potent new novel.

Lee's life decisions—to become a sculptor, to sojourn in the mean streets of the South Side, to marry into the haute-intellectual culture of Hyde Park—play out against the crude glamour of midcentury Chicago. Just's signature skill of conveying emotional heft with few words is put into play as Lee confronts the meaning of his four years at Ogden Hall School under the purview, in the school library, of a bust known as Rodin's Debutante. And, especially, as he meets again a childhood friend, the victim of a brutal sexual assault of which she has no memory. It was a crime marking the end of Lee's boyhood and the beginning of his understanding—so powerfully under the surface of Just's masterly story—that how and what we remember add up to nothing less than our very lives.

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About the Author-
  • Ward Just's novels include Exiles in the Garden, Forgetfulness, the National Book Award finalist Echo House, A Dangerous Friend, winner of the Cooper Prize for fiction from the Society of American Historians, and An Unfinished Season, winner of the Chicago Tribune Heartland Award and a finalist for the 2005 Pulitzer Prize.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    January 3, 2011
    In Ward's solid 17th novel, a boy comes of age in mid-20th-century Chicago and tries to find a way to create art in the face of the world's harshness. Lee Goodell, an adventurous youngster, lives in New Jesper, a quiet town on the outskirts of Chicago where his father and a cabal of influential locals act as a well-meaning protectorate of the town. After the coverup of a horrific sex crime at Lee's school, the young Lee's illusions are broken, and he takes this loss of innocence with him to boarding school at the Ogden Hall School for Boys. Lee's education takes place in many arenas: the classroom, the football field, his sculpting studio, the Chicago streets, a free clinic, and among Hyde Park intellectuals, but when the victim of the sex crime from Lee's childhood returns to find out the truth of what happened, Just creates an opportunity for Lee to recognize the confluence of all these influences on his life. Just's prose is clean and powerful, and while Lee is a bit flat—even when he's bad, he's good—his coming-of-age is filled with rich observations and finely tuned details.

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    Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
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A Novel
Ward Just
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